MLB’s return to action in an abbreviated 2020 season, being played in the midst of the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic, depends upon the implementation of special protocols and extensive testing to try to keep players and staff healthy, and to allow early intervention and quarantining should someone test positive, in order to prevent the virus from spreading widely among personnel with a team.
There has already been a major issue with at least one team, however. The Oakland A’s have not been able to have a full squad workout yet because the intake tests for the team’s position players had not, as of Sunday evening, been sent to MLB’s lab in Salt Lake City. The tests were expected to arrive at 1:30 in the morning Mountain Time today, and the hope was that they would be processed on an expedited basis, with results hoped to be available in time to have a workout Monday evening.
While A’s general manager David Forst was publicly sanguine about the situation, he put the league and the testing organization on blast in an internal message, blasting them for “screwing up the logistics of this whole thing.” Apparently, the samples were taken on Friday, could not be delivered on Saturday because of the holiday, and then were not switched to Sunday delivery, meaning that the A’s position players are still in limbo and unable to work out with their teammates.
With the season starting in about three weeks and there only being 60 games, the Oakland organization is justifiably frustrated over the loss of workout time and the potential of a competitive disadvantage as a result of this situation. This is also a cause for concern about MLB’s ability to keep the testing protocols running smoothly once the season begins. And this isn’t just limited to issues with the A’s...Ken Rosenthal says three teams, including the Angels, had testers simply not show up on Sunday when they were supposed to be there. The entire season going forward requires that the every-other-day testing that players and staff will undergo goes off smoothly. Delays or other problems in testing could de-rail the season.
I guess one can say that this is part of getting the kinks worked out in a new system, and that whatever hiccups occur over the first week or two will be resolved and things running smoothly once the season starts. And if there is a one off delay of a day or two for one team it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world...you could postpone a game and play a doubleheader if need be to allow for time to get the test results back.
But this is a reminder of how easily things can go off the rails. I have not shared the concerns that some have vocalized, that MLB isn’t important enough to warrant playing in the midst of a pandemic, and MLB should shut things down until 2021. Aside from the fact that most players and most owners want to play and have a season, if MLB’s protocols are followed and players obey the social distancing rules (and I have no doubt there will be peer pressure from teammates on that front), I am not sure that the risk of any given person catching COVID-19 as a result of the season being played is significantly higher than if players were doing whatever they have been doing the previous three-plus months. The regular testing and aggressive quarantining should result in anyone who does contract COVID-19 being isolated and cutting off any potential spread earlier and more effectively than if they were not doing all of this.
However...that assumes that testing goes off as planned, and protocols are followed as required. One has to hope right now that the testing problems early on will be resolved before game action starts, or else things could get very problematic.